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Downtown retail boom

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New retaurants, retail stores are following the loft boom into downtown

By Charlene Prost

Of the Post-Dispatch

08/19/2004

When consultant Chuck Cantrell moved back to St. Louis from Chicago four years ago, he headed for downtown's first loft condo building, not yet finished. But he was too late.

"By the time I found out about the 10th Street Lofts, they were filled," Cantrell said. "I was really disappointed."

Since then, Cantrell and hundreds of others have found homes in downtown St. Louis. They've been moving into trendy apartments and condos that developers are putting into renovated buildings at a pace not seen before in downtown. And, they're being joined by new retailers and restaurants.

More than 1,400 residential units have been finished or begun since 1999, according to the Downtown St. Louis Partnership. Another 1,000 are on the drawing boards. When they're finished, the total for the broad definition of downtown will be more than 5,300 market-rate units; there's an additional 1,750 for low and moderate-income residents.

But another wave of development is under way as well, one that experts say usually follows residents into downtowns.

More than 20 new restaurants, furniture stores and other retailers, including groceries, have opened or will open by the end of the year. All are at street level, and most are in buildings that Craig Heller, the McGowan brothers, and other downtown developers are renovating with housing on the upper floors.

The restaurant and store owners are a varied bunch. They're local and from out-of-town, with different levels of expertise and different stories about how they ventured into downtown.

There's chef Larry Forgione, for example, who's owned An American Place restaurant in New York City for nearly 21 years. He decided to open a similar one here after developers at HRI Properties invited him to come see the ornate, two-level lobby of the historic Statler Hotel they restored as part of the Renaissance Grand Hotel.

Forgione didn't remember being in St. Louis before and said he "wasn't particularly looking to do a new restaurant." But after seeing the lobby, and its potential as a restaurant in an awakening downtown, he plans to open there in late September. "It will be one of the most beautiful dining rooms in America," he said.

Jonathan Mortimer, a chef and cookbook author with a restaurant in Boise, Idaho, was lured here by a business partner. The partner bought a building on Washington Avenue and asked Mortimer if he would open a restaurant there. "Initially, I said 'no'" Mortimer said.

But after touring the building, and downtown, he changed his mind. "I just liked St. Louis," he said, "... and thought we could be successful."

Mike Finan is putting together his first new venture, UMA home furnishing and accessory shop. The former manager of the Irish Crystal Co. shop in Creve Coeur decided to take the plunge while recuperating after being hit by a bus.

"I've been wanting to do this for a while," he said, "and I was really encouraged by other shops and restaurants opening ... and by my neighbors, who are really excited about living downtown."

Finan's shop is part of an emerging group of stores you won't find anywhere else.

Three other stores - one open and two coming - feature showrooms and catalogs with contemporary and modern furniture and accessories, much of it from Italy, Germany and other European countries.

They'll join Mossa Center, at 1214 Washington, an exclusive source here for some Italian-made furniture and accessories for 21 years.

David M. Freehan, president of the International Downtown Association in Washington, D.C., said what's under way isn't all that unusual in cities revitalizing their downtowns.

New restaurants and retail do follow residents, he said, "and home furnishings is one of those niches that seems to catch on."

Todd and Tammy Martin's Ambiente Collection furniture showroom and store is already open in the 315 Loft Building that developer Craig Heller is renovating with 20 loft apartments.

The Martins moved the store, with mostly German-made furniture and accessories, from 14173 Manchester Road in west St. Louis County. The reason, Todd Martin said, was to be closer to their customers from downtown, the Central West End, Clayton and University City - and to be part of downtown's revival. So far, it's been a good move.

"In one day here I'm getting more walk-in traffic than I could get in two weeks in West County easy, and people are buying," he said. "Most have been people who live here, but they're coming from other areas, too."

One customer was Cantrell, a customer relationship management consultant.

"I had been waiting for them to move downtown," he said. "It was too difficult to get to them before, with all the traffic on Manchester Road."

The Lawrence Group, an architecture, interior and graphic design firm, is about to open Niche in the Renaissance Grand's garage and ballroom building at 922 Washington. Kitchen K restaurant and Lee J clothing store are already open in the renovated Merchandise Mart next door. Todd and Kelli Sanders' 10th Street Italian restaurant will open this fall next to Niche.

Linda Lowenstein, a partner at Lawrence Group, said Niche will have mostly classic modern furniture and accessories "that people haven't seen here before." And she expects it to attract area-wide customers.

"We'll have everything from entire living rooms and bedrooms to linens, lamps, accessories, original artwork," she said.

"This will be a new venue for our clients, but it's also the result of all the new residential and other activity downtown."

Two former Lawrence Group architects are planning another contemporary furniture store with a gallery and studio for their new Baseline Workshop LLC firm. They'll design furniture, among other things.

Johann Hommel and Evan Bronstein will open later this year in Vanguard Lofts at 1110-1120 Washington, a building that developer Bill Bruce is renovating with 80 loft apartments. A building he's renovating next door will house a wine shop.

The new Poliform furniture and accessory store will showcase the Italian company's furniture and products, including Varenna kitchen appliances, wares and storage units, along with a line of glass pocket doors and panels that Bronstein said "will look wonderful in loft spaces."

The gallery will have photography by local and out-of-town artists on display, and for sale.

"We'll have happenings here, and exhibit openings," Hommel said. "We want to enliven the street and do our part to help bring people downtown."

Developers themselves have been teaming up with experts to bring more restaurants and retail into their buildings.

Heller, for example, and Rance Baker of Denver, an urban grocery consultant, will open City Grocers in the Heller's Bell Lofts building. Jay Case, of Chicago, is working with Chicago investors and restaurateurs on a restaurant for his Terra Cotta Lofts. The McGowan brothers will open their own restaurant and grocery in their Rudman building.

"We've been beating the bushes," trying to coax even more restaurants and retail into downtown, said James Cloar, the downtown partnership's president. The partnership and the city also have been assisting some entrepreneurs with a forgivable loan program and other incentives.

Rosemarie Reum, who owns Mossa Center, is one of several business owners who said they welcome all the new activity. And Reum said the new furniture stores will help her business. "Somebody might go to Ambiente looking for a sofa, not find one, and then stop by my place," she said.

She's already seeing change.

"There are definitely a lot more people walking around now," she said, "and there's been a noticeable increase in my business since January. It's been probably 50-50 - folks coming from downtown and the rest from all over."

Reporter Charlene Prost

E-mail: [email protected]

Phone: 314-340-8140

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This sounds like an interesting time for not only DT St. Louis but most downtown areas. As a future resident of Downtown St. Louis, it sounds exciting to have modern conveniences like City Market, to Famous Barr and Casinos to Kitchen K's with in walking distance from my apartment.

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When and where are you moving into Downtown?

I am moving into downtown St. louis at the end of the year after living in Memphis for 2 years. I will be staying at Mansion House or Gentry's Landing.

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First of all, what a great site and forum. Secondly, I too am moving to St. Louis in January and plan to live downtown. I also used to live in Memphis, by the way. I have checked out those same apartments but am leaning more towards the Jefferson Arms. Have you looked into that place?

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Hmmm, I might take another look at Gentry's Landing then. I am primarily just trying to keep expenses down until I can buy a loft condo. I would ideally like to sell my car when I get there and apply that to a down payment, if feasible.

Yes, we should try to find some way to get new residents together. I personally will not know anybody when I get there (except some family).

So where do you live in Memphis?

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Hmmm, I might take another look at Gentry's Landing then. I am primarily just trying to keep expenses down until I can buy a loft condo. I would ideally like to sell my car when I get there and apply that to a down payment, if feasible.

Yes, we should try to find some way to get new residents together. I personally will not know anybody when I get there (except some family).

So where do you live in Memphis?

What part of the area will you be working in? Mass transit is decent depending upon the area you work in. So don't sell your car yet.

I am trying to do the same thing with buying a loft. It seems like loft living is becoming a popular trend.

St. Louis is a great town Im sure by living downtown you will not have a hard time meeting other people and making new friends.

I live in Germantown. What city are you moving from?

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Yeah, I can't sell the car until I know where I will be working. Obviously, I would want to work downtown. I would just hate to have the expense of owning a car if I only use it once a week or so. I'm also trying to get out of the whole car-driven lifestyle in general.

I lived in Memphis for about eight years. I went to the Univ. of Memphis for undergrad and grad school. I am now in Tulsa finishing up my last semester of law school. I'll take the Missouri bar in February. I want to work for the Public Defender or the Circuit Attorney (prefer the PD, though). Of course, I'll apply to the county offices as well to boost my chances but hope to find something in the city.

Well, I'm glad to see you are leaving the suburbs! I always lived around the university while I was there and loved it.

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Tulsa is a great city!

I think your going to love the big city amenities of St. Louis as well as the excellent quality of life the area has. One of the biggest attractions of urban living is the option to abandon ones car for LRT. In your case, you will probably be working in one of two area's. Downtown or Clayton. Clayton is the county seat for St. Louis county. Fortunatly, Clayton is part of the Metrolink cross county extension that is going to be completed sometime in 2006. So your dream of abandoning your car may come true.

Germantown is one of the most livable suburban locations in Memphis. However, since I am a single 32 year old male without kids, I feel out of place. There really isn't a sence of community in the suburbs. Therfore I find it rather boring. So I am new to the urban lifestyle but I think I will adjust without a problem.

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How many times have you visited here interurban? I think you both will enjoy Downtown.

I've been to St. Louis dozens of times over the years. I grew up nearby (western KY) and still have family there. I actually came up with my girlfriend in May to check it out and luckily the downtown housing tour was that weekend! Needless to say, we went to every single stop and very impressed. We also dined on the Hill at Lorusso's, bowled at Pin-Up Bowl, and caught a couple of Cards games (I grew up a huge Cards fan, btw).

I am having a little trouble finding something affordable downtown that will also accept her large dog (75 pounds). She (the girlfriend) is now suggesting we should rent something in the CWE near a Metrolink stop. We have found many more affordable, dog-friendly places there. I figure I can still get to downtown easily and she can get to UMSL easily with Metrolink (she has decided to go back to school for an education degree after previously being a corporate drone). We have also checked out the M Lofts in Lafayette Square. We would then look to buy a condo downtown within a year or so. I would appreciate any opinions on these various options.

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This may help.

http://www.apartmentguide.com/Property/pro...PropertyID=7337

Things have changed alot in the city since I lived there. But the property is close to the metrolink station a few minutes from The Loop and forest park also is relatively safe. I don't remember any grocery store near by. But it is less expensive than the downtown properties.

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This may help.

http://www.apartmentguide.com/Property/pro...PropertyID=7337

Things have changed alot in the city since I lived there. But the property is close to the metrolink station a few minutes from The Loop and forest park also is relatively safe. I don't remember any grocery store near by. But it is less expensive than the downtown properties.

I checked that place out and it seems to have changed perhaps since you lived in St. Louis. All the ratings websites mention non-existent management and constant violent crime (rapes and muggings). I'm not squeamish at all and have lived in some dangerous neighborhoods but I think we are going to try something east of Kingshighway. Right now we are looking at Montclair on the Park, Parc Frontenac, and the Del Coronado (first choice). I think we'll enjoy being able to walk to everything (and its a few blocks from the CWE Metrolink station - but admittedly not as close as DeBaliviere Place is to the Forest Park stop). They're a little more expensive but still in the low $700s for a one bedroom (very reasonable).

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I have heard bad things about that apartment complex, but have not heard anything bad about the neighborhood.

No, I think the neighborhood is great. We just want to be able to walk to a few more places, like the movie theatre at the Chase and Straub's, for example.

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